Saturday, 2 July 2011

Sveta-ketu goes to school

Long ago in India, there was a boy named Sveta-ketu (shway-ta-kay-too). He was already twelve years old, but he had not yet gone to school. Probably he had no brothers or sisters and there was so much work for him to do at home, helping his parents, that there had been no way for him to go to the house of a learned teacher, which is where the pupils studied in those days. A boy had to live with the teacher and study with him the various branches of knowledge that were taught at that time.

The father of this boy said to him one day, "Sveta-ketu, go to school. You are a brahmin, of a wellborn family, and no one in our family line has failed to live up to that. A brahmin must be educated and learn how to behave nobly in every respect."

So Sveta-ketu went off to the local teacher's house and studied the great books, called The Vedas, and similar subjects, for twelve years. In that time, of course, he had been able to master many things, so he had quite a good opinion of himself. He walked proudly and smiled very little. When, at the age of twentyfour, he had come back to his parents, they were very happy to have him home again. But his father noticed the proud attitude in the boy and decided that there was only one word for Sveta-ketu: conceited!

One day he said, "Well, my boy, since you consider yourself a very serious person and well educated indeed, let me now test your knowledge. Did you ever ask your teacher for that instruction by which one hears the unhearable, perceives the unperceivable, and knows the unknowable?"

"How, sir," the young man answered, very much surprised, "can there be any such instruction?"

"Why, in this way, my boy: by knowing the nature of one lump of clay, we can know the nature of everything made of clay, can we not? The shapes of other things, such as a pot, a toy elephant, etc., are just names, given to help us talk about them. The reality in them is just the clay, is it not?"

"By knowing the nature of a nugget of gold, the nature of all gold things is known; likewise, by knowing the structure of a nailfile, we understand everything made of iron. The shapes and names we use for convenience. The reality is just the gold, or the iron."

"Yes, Father," said Sveta-ketu. "Surely my revered teachers did not know this; why did they not tell me? So, you please tell me about that."

His father agreed, and the instruction he gave his son, remembered by him and passed on to generations of students, takes up a large part of one of the Upanishads. Let's hear the beginning and a few other portions of that teaching.

"In the beginning, my boy," said the father, "there was just Being and nothing else. Some people said there was Nonbeing and nothing else, and that Being came out of that. But they were foolish! How could Being be produced by NonBeing?"

"It was just the opposite, son: in the beginning, there was just Being and nothing else. That Being felt lonely. It thought, 'Well, let me become many. Let me produce other things.' And so It produced the different elements of this universe, one after another." In this way, Sveta-ketu's father went on to explain to him the various stages of creation.

"There is more to growing up than you may think. Facts, gathered from books and teachers are all very well, but wisdom is to know that they all come from one source."
You are That!
Sveta-ketu's father continued:
"Every night, when they go into a state of dreamless sleep, all creatures enter again into that Being from which they have come. Then, why do they not know it?"
"When the bees make honey by collecting the nectar of different trees and reduce them all to one juice, these nectars cannot say, 'I am the nectar of an orange blossom,' 'I am the nectar of a mango blossom,' etc. In the same way, my boy, all these creatures, though they have entered that Being, they cannot say what they are. When they return again to the waking state, whatever they are in this world -- a man, a tiger, a wolf, a boar, a worm, a fly, or a mosquito -- that is what they become again. They do not know that they have come back from that Being."

"Suppose there is a hidden treasure of gold lying buried in a field. People who do not know about it will walk again and again over that treasure and will not find it. Just so, all of us go, day after day, into the embrace of that divine Being but do not realize it. The Self of this whole universe is the same as the Seed from which it came. And you, O Sveta-ketu, are That!"

"But, sir," asked the son, "that Being has no name or form. So, how could this universe, with all its objects having all these names, come out of that?"

"Bring me a fig from our figtree," his father suggested. Sveta-ketu went out and came back with a fig from the tree.

"Now break it."
"Yes, it is broken."
"What do you see now?"
"Seeds -- hundreds of them."
"Now break one of the seeds, son."
"That is difficult, sir. But here, it is done."
"Do you see anything inside?"
"No, sir, there is nothing inside."

"Sveta-ketu, just because you cannot see it, that does not mean that there is not a fine principle at work in the seed, which is the cause of the whole fig tree. Believe me, my boy, the Self of this whole universe is the same as the tiny seed from which it came. And you are That!"

Now Sveta-ketu was puzzled and had a doubt in his mind: if some principle, called Being is the cause of all this world, why do we not see that? So, he asked his father, who replied:

"Here is a lump of salt. Put this lump in a vessel of water, and I will see you again in the morning." His son did so. Next morning, when he came, his father asked him to bring him that lump of salt. Sveta-ketu looked into the vessel, but of course the salt had dissolved.

"Taste some water from the surface of the vessel," said his father, "and tell me how it is."

"Salty," Sveta-ketu said.

"Now taste a little from the other side and tell me how that is."

"Salty, Sir."

"Now carefully pour off most of the water and try a little from the bottom of the pot." This done, Sveta-ketu replied that it tasted salty too.

"You could not perceive the salt with your eyes, you had to apply the sense of taste. So, also, in this body of ours -- that Being is not perceived by eyes or tongue or any of the senses, but it is here nevertheless. It has to be discovered by a different means."

( Later he will explain the means: meditation and discrimination.)
"The Self of this whole universe is the same as the tiny seed it came from. And you, O Sveta-ketu, are That!"

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